Monday, July 04, 2011

Human Understanding--Part the Fourth

***(Picture, see below)

I seem to have already exhausted all the pictures of John Locke that are in circulation, so this post will be words only. Not even any girls today. I could not find anything that fit the mood.

Book II, Chap. XXVII (Idea of Personal Idenity): "...I once met with one, who was persuaded his had been the soul of Socrates." I think I met that guy too.

Chap. XXVIII (Idea of Moral Relations): "...mankind have fitted their notions and words to the use of common life, and not to the truth and extent of things." Yes, but if you do not have something of the thought process of a philosopher, this idea will have no meaning for you.

Chap XXXI (Of Adequate and Inadequate Ideas): "And so each sensation answering the power that operates on any of our senses, the idea so produced is a real idea, (and not a fiction of the mind, which has no power to produce any simple idea)..." I like the clarity of this. I have very few distinct ideas which would contribute in any way to a general understanding or world view. This sounds correct to me, but I have a very hard time adhering to any singular, precise viewpoint where abstractions are concerned.

"Thus by having the idea of a figure with three sides meeting at three angles, I have a complete idea, wherein I require nothing else to make it perfect." The perfection of the idea of the triangle is one of the pillars on which my old school was built, and the extent to which you are able to internalize this idea and allow it to become a guiding tenet of your life plays a great role in determining the nature of your experience there. Not necessarily the quality of your actual learning, but definitely the nature of your experience.

I thought that the breakdown of true and false ideas was clear and sensible.

I am finally through my tidbits from Volume 1. I am pretty sure I have much fewer notes on Volume 2.

Book III, Chap IV (Of the Names of Simple Ideas). "I say that the names of simple ideas, and those only, are incapable of being defined." His reasoning was that a definition is an explanation of the meaning of one word by the use of other words, but these cannot describe a basic idea that is not a composite of other ideas but has only a single attribute that it signifies, and is in fact meaningless itself until brought into relations. My impression is that this difficulty has been overcome.

Old philosophers in general are concerned with (......? I cannot make out my note here. It is a big word too) the mind, which is not only the locus of knowledge but the most important repository of it. I am not certain that going forward this is going to be regarded as the case.

***Chap VI (Names of Our Ideas of Substances) "...and our idea of any individual man would be as far different from what it is now, as is his who knows all the springs and wheels and other contrivances within of the famous clock at Strasburg, from that which a gazing contryman has of it, who barely sees the motion of the hand, and hears the clock strike, and observes only some of the outward appearances." I would have liked to have gone to Strasbourg. Some major segment of the EU governing apparatus operates out of there, so it is modernized and trendy to a greater degree than I am usually comfortable with, but the cathedral and the old quarter are still reputed to be remarkable, and the food is supposed to be very special as well, the Alsatian cuisine being as far as I can make out something like the marriage of Germanic ingredients and Gallic sensibility, both of which I like.

I thought that the bit about necessity applying to ideas rather than things themselves uncontemplated was ingenious. Of course without mind, what does the entirety of creation signify? It is preposterous.

"There is not so contemptible a plant or animal, that does not confound the most enlarged understanding." I know these forays into high Civilization must be profoundly boring and singularly uninstructive to everybody else, but they restore my equilibrium.

There is a reference in this same chapter to Thomas Aquinas's "ordines angelorum"--gradations of angels. This evidently invoked a reminiscence at the time, though unfortunately I forgot to record what it was.

Personal anecdote: 'November 19, 2008--Oscar (my oldest son, then 6 1/2) said "Is everything I do something?" A Lockean question. I answered, "If your mind is capable of perceiving the action, it is something."' I would never have remembered this if I had not jotted it down hastily in the margin of my book.

Locke quotes a story from a French miscellany of anecdotes and bons mots that I think will make a good end for this post:

"When the abbott of St Martin was born, he had so little of the figure of a man, that it bespake him rather a monster. It was for some time under deliberation, whether he should be baptized or no. However, he was baptized, and declared a man provisionally [till time should show what he would prove]. Nature had moulded him so untowardly, that he was called all his life the Abbot Malotru; i.e. ill-shaped. He was of Caen." Caen is not so distinctive and remarkable as Strasbourg, but I should have liked to have gone there too. I believe it is a run down old seaside resort in Normandy, and was frequented by many of the Impressionist painters. It sounds like my kind of place.

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